Can Russia Help Resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?
Following a series of phone calls with Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to visit Moscow on October 9 for discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The aim of the talks is reportedly to allow a cessation of combat in which to conduct a swap of dead bodies and prisoners.
Renewed Fighting in Nagorno Karabakh
Azerbaijan and Armenia started their most recent clashes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region on September 27. This is not the first time the two nations have fought over the disputed territory as similar incidents occurred in the summer of 2014, in April 2016 and this past July.
Both countries have imposed martial law and reported many civilian casualties.
The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh started in February 1988, after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region declared its exit from the Azerbaijani Soviet Republic that year.
In 1992-1994, arguments between Azerbaijan and Armenia resulted in large-scale military action for control over the region.
What Does Putin Want from the Conflict?
The OSCE Minsk Group, which is led by its three co-chairs of Russia, France and the USA, has been leading talks on the territory since 1992. But considering Putin has taken the lead in calling for a peaceful settlement to the regional dispute, two questions arise: can Russia help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute at this time; and what does the Russian President want from the region?
As Eleonora Di Franco wrote for My Country? Europe, Russia has far-reaching interests in keeping the South Caucasus inflamed with tensions. This is because Russia has been acting half as a mediator and half as an instigator of a decades-old conflict.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Provides Putin with Many Advantages
Firstly, Moscow does not provide financial or moral support to Nagorno-Karabakh and it does not have military forces situated there. Although Putin tries to portray himself as an honest broker in the peace talks, it would go against Moscow’s strategic interests to actively choose a side. This would hinder Russia’s credibility as a security guarantor. Ever since Georgia edged closer toward the US, Putin has been very careful not to lose any more friends in the South Caucasus.
Also, the status quo provides Russia with many political and economic advantages. Putin hopes to monopolize the peace process in order to increase his political clout in the region, and he wants to preserve the economic gains made through trade deals with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Kremlin could continually push for an end to the conflict if it really wanted to, but considering Russia has been a member of the OSCE Minsk Group since 1992, it’s clear that Moscow has failed to help bring lasting peace to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Putin is Battling for Influence with Turkey
One motive behind Putin’s actions could be the fact that Turkey has involved itself in the conflict. Thanks to Turkish support, Azerbaijan believes it can continue its war to recover what it sees as lost territories without submitting to Russian authority.
Compared to past scenarios, the situation for the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute really is different this time. Putin supports forcing Azerbaijan into a ceasefire that maintains Armenian territorial advantages, but such a move risks losing Baku to Turkish influence. If Moscow took Armenia’s side, then such a move could result in a terrible regional war between Turkey and Russia.
It is clear that Russia has a long history of failing to resolve the territorial spat between Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, Putin will find it harder to preserve the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh this time due to increased support from Turkey for Azerbaijan’s territorial claims. As a result, the Russian President will find his influence in the South Caucasus starting to wane. Putin must choose a side before Turkey forces his hand, even if that means he must risk his relationship with Aliyev and Azerbaijan.